April 07, 2014
On April 2, 2014, the Supreme Court issued its decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. This case involves constitutional challenges to federal election laws that limit, over the course of a two-year election cycle, the total amount a person may contribute to so-called “non-candidate committees,” such as political parties and political action committees. Petitioner McCutcheon contends that these limits are based on no “constitutionally cognizable interest” and therefore violate the First Amendment on their face, or alternatively, as applied to contributions to national party committees. In addition, McCutcheon contends, the limits are numerically so low as to be constitutionally invalid on that basis as well, both on their face and as applied. Finally, McCutcheon argues that federally imposed limits on contributions to candidate committees likewise violate the First Amendment for lack of a “constitutionally cognizable interest.”
In an opinion delivered by Chief Justice Roberts, the Court held by a vote of 5-4 that the aggregate limits violate the First Amendment, as they do little to prevent quid pro quo corruption or the appearance thereof, yet seriously restrict participation in the democratic process. Justices Scalia, Kennedy, and Alito joined the Chief’s opinion. Justice Thomas wrote an opinion concurring in the judgment. Justice Breyer wrote a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor. The decision of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia was reversed and remanded.
To discuss the case, we have Derek Muller, an Associate Professor of Law at the Pepperdine University School of Law.